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The future of energy generation

In an effort to reduce global reliance on fossil fuels, much research is being made into more sustainable ways of generating power. So what is the future of energy generation? Look into’s crystal ball...

Island in the sun

Artist's impression of a solar islandAt the moment, a Swiss company called CSEM are developing the solar island, which – as you’d expect – floats in the sea and generates energy! And not just the sea – it could also be floated on any body of water, or even plonked on land. It’s 5km in diameter, and its membrane ‘hovers’ 20 metres over the water. Plus its position can be adjusted to follow the course of the sun.

It is said to be far more cost-effective than current solar generation, and CSEM aim to build enormous ‘islands’ to float on the Pacific which they say could contribute as much as a quarter of the planet’s energy by 2030. A prototype is currently in development in the United Arab Emirates.

Bright side of the road

Artists impression of a solar roadwayA company in the US called Solar Roadways have recently won a £60,500 ($100,000) contract from the Department of Transportation to build – yes, you guessed it – roads that generate solar power. Not only do they generate energy, but they can display changeable road markings by using LEDs, and can even warm the surface to prevent itself from icing over during cold snaps.

It has been estimated that using these panels to resurface all of the interstate highways in the US could generate enough power to meet the entire world’s energy demand. The initial outlay would not be cheap, however – billions of panels would be required, costing $6,900 apiece. And their durability when exposed to everyday heavy use has yet to be tested. But a prototype is due to be trialled on a 45 mile stretch of road in Idaho – so watch this space.

Out of space

Speaking of space, as we were, how about getting our power from out there? Solar power would be collected by a satellite and then transmitted wirelessly to Earth. Sound like the stuff of a madman’s dreams? Well, according to the National Space Society, it could happen. They go further and say that such a system could solve the planet’s energy and greenhouse gas concerns. Whoop!

Power from the people

We’re generally a pretty active bunch, so there’s some interest in harnessing the kinetic energy from people and turning it into power. One way in which this has been applied is in gyms. The Green Microgym in Portland, Oregon for example runs an ‘Earn as you burn’ programme of electricity generation. It uses connected exercise bikes linked to a dynamo, with additional hand cranks, to produce the juice.

Some graduate students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology took this a step further, by coming up with the concept of ‘Crowd Farms’. These would essentially harness the movements of large groups of people using specially-designed spongy floors with embedded blocks, which would move and generate power with footfalls. They could be used where there is a large congregation of commuters, for example, or by crowds at concerts – Mosh Power!

However, it’s worth pointing out that harnessing energy from people is essentially inefficient. Which is a shame, because although some of these concepts sound appealing in principle, the actual practice of energy generation is a different matter. The designers of the ‘Crowd Farm’ concede that their idea is merely experimental, and would be best used as a stepping stone to understanding other potential means of generation. The large-scale, cost-effective development of such a project is some way into the future yet.

Even the energy-generating gyms are unlikely to feed power back into the grid, but will just offset their own consumption. This is obviously no bad thing – it shows that some businesses are keen to reduce their impact, and are taking small steps towards a more sustainable future. So, although sadly we’re never likely to light up a whole city with Mosh Power, these are certainly interesting times for energy generation.

Further reading:

Green Tariffs: Eco-Friendly Energy Consumption
What you can do to reduce your gas and electricity usage
Energy Efficiency Grants – Do You Qualify?
Top Money Saving Tips for Ethical Living


Owe Carter

Owe Carter

Owe Carter is a content producer who's worked for since 2007. He's the author of our Carless Cities report. Twitter: @ConfusedOwe View more from Owe